By Airman Nigel R. Sims , 460th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 26, 2011
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo- -- (Editor's note: The following is a conversation with 460th Communications Squadron Commander, Lt. Col. Kelly Kanapaux, regarding Drinking and Driving and was recorded by SrA Elisabeth Labbe for a public service announcement on Driving Under the Influence. To view the PSA go to www.buckley.af.mil.)
Team Buckley has decided to take a stand against drunk driving. Over the past six months there has been a case of at least 12 alcohol related incidents involving military personnel at Buckley. Below is one Airman's account on how drinking and driving affected his life.
Recorded by SrA Labbe:
"I do have a personal experience in regards to drinking and driving, and the impact to me and my family. I would say that it's not so much that it impacted me, but it had a gross impact to my daughter, who was involved in an accident where the other vehicle was driven by a suspected drunken driver.
"It was Memorial Day 2009, and my wife and I were at home. We got a phone call from the local hospital. The Emergency Room nurse on the line that day said that my daughter had been involved in an accident. It was a very shocking phone call to get. It was very different from the way the day had started, with my daughter and her fiancée going out to local stores, and doing some wedding registry. My wife and I were sitting at home very excited, working with our families in Charleston, working on the internet, trying to plan a wedding. We both have very large families in the Charleston, South Carolina area. That's where the wedding was supposed to take place.
"I'd recently volunteered for a 365-day deployment. My daughter was determined to have the wedding before we deployed. So, we got the phone call...sheer panic kind of set in...shock. I was living on base at the time. The Security Forces squadron commander was just a couple of doors down from me, and seconds after I received the phone call, was knocking on the door...came in and validated that there had been a serious accident. It was my daughter, and her fiancée, who was a Security Forces squadron member and a member of her squadron; we needed to make our way to the Emergency Room, and she cautioned us to drive as safely as possible, and not be in a rush. And, I knew exactly what she meant by that, because I can tell you when you get news like that, you desperately want to get to that hospital as quickly as possible. So my wife and I also did recognize that we needed to be safe getting down there.
"But, they won't let you know how serious any of the injuries are, so we weren't sure quite how serious it was. The first thing I wanted to relate to them, because I knew she was in the hospital...she had been in an accident...was that she was pregnant. The big concern when we got the call, we weren't sure of the extent of her injuries, so, I remember that we needed to make sure that the hospital knew that she was pregnant. So, I remember saying that over and over again, 'Please understand that she's pregnant!' All they'll tell you on the phone is 'You need to make your way down here.'
"That was about the time the Security Forces commander was knocking on the door, so we ended the call with the Emergency Room, and I talked with her very briefly as my wife and I were running around trying to get shoes on, and grab car keys. My wife was very distraught and not sure what to make of all this and I'm trying to keep her calm. We got in the vehicle and headed to the hospital.
"We arrived at the hospital, and already a number of folks from the Security Forces Squadron were there. We met them in the lobby and talked with them very briefly, waiting for the doctors to allow us to come back. At that time we thought that her fiancée had the full extent of the injuries. That's what we were being told. It wasn't until later that we saw that most of his injuries were superficial injuries to the face. But, still serious...torn eyelid, torn bottom lip, the area between the two nostrils torn in half, lacerations on his hands...damage caused by the air bag deployment.
"As we walked back, my daughter was laying on a bed, still in the Emergency Room, crying out for pain medicine. They informed us that they had really given her all they could at the time. They needed to do more assessment of her injuries. I'm arguing with the nurse to give her more pain medicine and they pretty much let me know they'd given her all they could.
"I could tell by looking at the sheets that her legs had taken a good beating. They were a little misshapen. We did all we could to console her at the time. It was a little while longer before the doctor came in to do a better assessment, and then they wheeled her off for surgery. That was our introduction to the Emergency Room.
"After they wheeled her off we went back into the waiting area, and the investigating police officer came around, and kind of explained what had happened. At the time they weren't really sure what had happened...it was a preliminary investigation. He did explain that, yes, there was a car...both vehicles were traveling down opposite ends of a divided highway.
"One vehicle turned and hit my daughter's vehicle as it was coming up the highway. He had pretty much done a left turn into oncoming traffic and hit my daughter's vehicle. My daughter was driving a small Dodge Neon. The vehicle that hit her was a Ford F-250. The angle of the turn at the particular intersection almost meant that it was almost a head-on collision. It was such a long-angled turn, that when the F-250 turned into the oncoming traffic, at the angle they hit my daughter it was almost a head-on collision.
"You know, we have some stories. We saw a picture in the newspaper of the Jaws of Life having to cut the vehicle and get my daughter out...other people on-scene, assisting both of them, my daughter and her fiancée. That was about all we had of the description of the scene at the time. Later, it was determined, through investigation that the driver of the F-250 actually fled the vehicle...jumped out of the vehicle, jumped into another vehicle, and left the scene.
"My daughter's car...Oh, boy, it was demolished. I would say the entire driver's side front end of my daughter's car was pushed back to the dashboard area. The entire dashboard had caved in...the steering wheel had come off. Fortunately, my daughter is very small...very small-framed for her age. I think that if she wasn't as small as she was, she wouldn't have survived that accident. She was essentially pinned into that vehicle. It did take the Jaws of Life to pull her out.
"It has grossly changed my daughter's life...just a high impact to my daughter's life. The injuries that she sustained...she now has a titanium rod from her right shoulder to her right elbow. She has a titanium rod from her left hip joint to her left knee. She has a titanium plate on her left forearm. She suffered two cracked vertebrae in her neck...tore her PCL in her left knee...broke her foot. It's something she deals with daily now. It's something she deals with every time she wakes up. It's something she deals with every time she walks...every time she picks up her son. Every time someone goes to hug her, the pain is still there. It's been almost two years now, one month shy of two years. She's still dealing with that pain on an hourly basis.
"Incidents like this affect many people. It affected my daughter, but also it impacted the squadron. I was the communications squadron commander there at Dyess Air Force Base. They had to deal with a commander that was pretty much focused on his daughter in the hospital for a couple of weeks, and unable to come to work. I was also scheduled to depart for my 365 deployment. As you can imagine with an event like that occurring, you immediately have to request time for a delayed departure date, which I did. I think that's a testament to Air Force family and how we do pull together and help each other out. No questions were asked.
"My boss, the Mission Support Group commander at the time, came up to me and said, 'Kelly, you're getting to roll out for this 365-day TDY. This has occurred. What do you want to do? How long do you want to postpone it? Do you still want to deploy?' It wasn't just him. There was also the deployed commander that came on-board, and said, 'Look, if he wants to cancel this deployment, we fully understand. If he wants to delay it, we can delay it for any time period that he wants to.'
"We decided we would put it off for three weeks. Those three weeks was going to allow me time to work with my daughter during her inpatient therapy, and then get her situated back in our home town with my wife, and work with her a little bit on outpatient physical therapy, and then depart for my deployment.
"So, big impacts! You're looking at an impact to the squadron, and impact to the deployed commander who's needing me in-theatre. So, the message there is that it's not just an individual impact. Often, when we see a DUI on-base, or a DUI in the Air Force, we think about that one individual who chose to get behind the wheel and drink, and we think about the punishment that may follow from that and we focus on that. I think what folks really need to think about are all the impacts of a situation like that, especially when an accident is involved.
"We now have my daughter who is going to live with this the rest of her life. We had a squadron that had to pull together and deal with the loss of a commander for a few weeks. We had the theatre who was expecting me to be there at a certain time. It was during a very busy, very important time there in the theatre, so certainly it impacted them as well. We had the young man sitting next to my daughter, now her husband, then her fiancée, who was also on a Security Forces team, prepared to deploy, who could no longer deploy with his team. It impacted that aspect, as well...multiple impacts. My wife wakes up worrying about my daughter every day. So, multiple impacts.
"When I left for my deployment, luckily my daughter had been discharged from outpatient therapy. A very driven young lady, she was still determined to move forward with the marriage. And, she did. She was able to get married before I left. I was able to walk her down the aisle...very slowly, but I was able to walk her down the aisle.
"So, there I am at the Head Quarters US Forces Afghanistan staff as the Director of Operations for the Communications and Information Systems Directorate. We've got planning that we're doing for a possible plus-up of personnel in-theatre, if you remember those new items...plussing-up by thirty thousand boots on the ground in Afghanistan, and it was my job to determine how many of those individuals need to become communicators. What type of communications support we needed to make sure existed in-theatre to accommodate this plus-up of boots on the ground...
"And, sometimes its difficult when you have this situation you're still very concerned about, very worried about back home, yet you find yourself in the theatre having to take care of business. It was a major distracter. Did it have mission impact? No, it did not. We didn't allow it to have mission impact. But, was it a distracter? Yes, it was! So, it just goes to show you how in-depth the impact of drinking and driving can be. It's not just one night, one poor judgment, some punishment and we move on in life. The ramifications can be fairly extensive.
"My daughter was pregnant at the time, and lost the baby ten weeks along in her pregnancy. She did lose the child in the accident. What greater effect can you have than that? My wife worries about her constantly, and will worry about her for the rest of her life, as well. It's a big impact.
"I would have to tell people that what happened was completely avoidable. What happened should never have happened. Drinking and driving should not be even be a choice in your toolkit of options when you're out with your friends...when you're out having a good time. The impact goes much beyond the individual who chose to drink and drive.
So, it's a simple message. The message is, 'If you're going to drink, drink responsibly. Have a plan. Have a plan going into the evening, and going into that day, going into any event. Be honest with yourself. Talk to yourself and have a plan. Know if you're going into a situation where alcohol is going to be available. Know if you're going into a situation where you're going to be taking advantage of that and have some alcoholic drinks. Make a plan and stick to that plan. That's really the message. If people would do that, we wouldn't have such incidents and accidents in the Air Force. My message to the Airmen and civilians here at Buckley Air Force Base is to drink responsibly and have a plan.
"The pain involved...there's just so much pain when something like this happens. The young man in her car that was in the Emergency Room...because of possible head injuries, cannot receive anesthesia as they're dealing with his injuries. As they sit there and have to sew up his lip, sew up his eyelid, sew up his nose, doing all of this without any pain killers. That was very traumatic. Seeing the pain that my daughter was having to go through just to move her around...just to lift her out of a bed and into a chair, just horrible. Seeing the pain that all the family members felt, even the unit members that night there in the Emergency Room, having to see what had happened, what had occurred.
"People do need to realize that this could be you. It could be anybody. It could be you that made that poor choice to have a couple of drinks, get into your vehicle and think that you're okay to drive. It could be you on the other end of the accident, just driving along, minding your own business, having a great day shopping, driving down the highway, and all in the matter of a split second, your life changes. It can happen to anybody. You have to have safety and the responsibility of drinking at the forefront of your mind when you're out."
As fellow wingman we must take the time to observe, and help out each other in this time of need. Overcoming this situation is not a hard obstacle; it is one that we simply just have to work on.